I’ve discovered another thing I love about Bravo tonight. It doesn’t carry local political ads—probably because they typical Bravo demographic aren’t going to be interested in ultra-conservative Republicans or ultra-conservative Democrats. And as we’re in the midst of a local Congressional election with ads on local channels ever seven seconds, I now know I’ll be tuning into whatever crap Bravo throws at me. Here I come, Jackie Warner! Bring on some Real Housewives!
Coming out of the foreshadows.
No one waxes poetically about Jen’s departure this week; instead it’s some serious magical elves action. It’s about that time in the season where the first few minutes reveal the top person, the bottom person, and the struggling person but with the catch that we don’t know who is who and there’s serious misdirection at play. First we hear from Stephanie who says that a lot of people have gone home but it’s still only half way through the competition. Being on the bottom last week has her worried. Antonia says she’s done doubting every flavor combination she puts out because she doesn’t do that in real life and she’s there to win. Finally, Mark gets to comment that with every departing contestant, he’s one step closer to winning. He’s come to America to run a kitchen and winning TC will raise his profile and get him to his own restaurant faster. Okay players, place your markers…it’s time to spin the wheel.
After all that foreshadowing, it’s time to head to the kitchen and get cracking on the Quick Fire. With Padma is this week’s guest judge, Art Smith; he is Oprah’s personal chef. Hmm, it hadn’t occurred to me before, but there they are, in Chicago, and no Oprah appearance. Maybe someone forgot to kiss her ring and we’re stuck with this guy. Has Oprah put on weight recently? If so, it could be due to Art’s cooking. This guy certainly is no Rosie Daley, the first personal chef Oprah pimped out 14 or 15 years ago. He’s kind of on the full-figured side (which isn’t a bad thing—no one trusts skinny chefs anyway), which makes me wonder what’s going on with Oprah. Not only do we have Art but we also have Uncle Ben. On a table are scads of packets of that microwave Uncle Ben’s rice. That crap is nasty, so I’m surprised to see it there. Padma announces the QF: cook an entrée, using the rice, in 15 minutes. The 90 second rice is supposed to help them get done quickly, but I think it’d take me 15 minutes to come up with a way to disguise the chemical taste.
Never wanting to shy away from a challenge, the chefs get right to it. With the time limit, there is more running around than usual but—luckily or unluckily, depending how you look at it—there are no Bugs Bunny-style crashes. Dale is going with an Asian dish because it is quick to prepare. Stephanie spies some scallops and decides to make seafood pancakes. Spike sticks with his Greek roots and makes some kind of stuffed tomato, which is something he ate a lot of as a kid. Similarly, Antonia makes a rice salad. She says it sounds weird but it is one of her favorite dishes from childhood. Mark, Lisa, and Richard all grouse a bit about the time crunch then it’s time for tasting. I think I spy Mark tasting the dish with the spoon he uses to serve…ewww. Before HazMat comes in, the dishes served are:
Antonia’s rice salad with skirt steak, arugula, red onions, and cherry tomatoes.
Nikki’s vegetable fried rice with mushrooms, zucchini, snap peas and egg.
Richard’s tuna steak and tomatoes over rice with yuzu vinaigrette.
Stephanie’s brown rice pancakes with scallops.
Spike’s rice stuffed tomatoes with veal, port and rice wine vinegar sauce
Lisa’s rice, corn, black beans, and peppers with avocado crème and grilled shrimp.
Dale’s pineapple fried rice with grilled scallops and Chinese long beans.
Mark’s miso glazed turkey over rice with snap peas and grapes that is so dry, Padma looks like she’s going to choke.
Andrew’s wild rice crusted fish with almond and sun-dried tomato pesto.
Art didn’t enjoy Mark’s dish, thought Stephanie’s pancake too heavy and scallops unnecessary, and Lisa’s dish unoriginal. He liked Dale’s dish for being a tasty full meal, Richard’s for being well-balanced, and Antonia’s for the lovely hot-cold combination. Art is truly sold on the rice salad idea and crowns Antonia as the winner. She’s thrilled to finally get immunity.
Children of the Kitchen.
No delays this week—Padma then gets right to the Elimination Challenge. It turns out Art is part of Common Threads, and the common thread is food. Wow, fancy that—an organization about food on a cooking show! Color me shocked. Common Threads has, as its goal, teaching families and kids how to prepare nutritional meals and encourages families to eat dinner together. The chefs’ challenge this week will be to create a meal for a family of four that is easy to prepare and comes in on a budget of $10. Yeah, $10…and they still have to shop at Whole Foods. Last time I was in Whole Foods, they were selling cookies at $4.95 a pop. For ONE cookie. One time I bought tomatoes for tomato soup…and, with a bell pepper thrown in, the tab was $16. Needless to say, I don’t do Whole Foods a lot and stick to the farmer’s market for my tomatoes now. Godspeed, chefs!
When they get to making groceries, the chefs dash for the meat counter. Pretty much everyone goes for the chicken because it’s the cheapest protein going, or at least the cheapest one kids would eat. Andrew wants to make something that stays with his simple-old-new philosophy (taking something simple and old fashioned and making it new). Dale just doesn’t want to do chicken so he picks up some pre-made turkey brats. If there ever were a challenge where buying prefab sausage would be okay, this is probably it. Stephanie freaks out in the grocery store and can’t figure out what to make. She admits that her mother cooked a lot of gourmet foods when she was growing up, so the whole simple/basic aspect is kind of out of her depth. I hear ya, sister! Yeah, I’m spoiled and proud of it. Meanwhile, Mark decides to go with a veggie curry because that’s something he’d make when he was short on cash. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go think about vegetable curries. I’ll be back momentarily.
Okay, got that out of my system…I lie, I’m dying for a veggie red curry with coconut milk. It’s good thing the restaurants are closed, or I’d be in the car now and I really don’t need to eat anything at this hour. Back at the house, Antonia is missing her daughter and calls her. She talks with her kid and then tells a joke that goes like this: “Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “Smell Mop!” “Smell Mop who?” The kid doesn’t get it at first but then laughs. For some reason, Antonia’s telling of a poo joke to her kid raises my opinion of her at least threefold.
The next day, the chefs arrive at the center where they’ll be preparing the meals. Each chef is assigned a kid sous chef from the Common Threads program. They look to be about 10 years old, which puts them at least five years ahead of Lisa in temper-control ability. Antonia chokes up because she’s thinking of her daughter. Lisa thinks working with a cooking-interested kid will be fun because she’s used to working with her girlfriend’s son. Amazingly, all of the cooks get along well with their assistants and no one gets into a screaming match or gets to cussing up a storm.
That’s not to say everything is smooth. Although Antonia trusts her kid with a knife, it may have been too much for Spike’s kid to use a vegetable peeler because he cuts his finger a few minutes into the prep. But the kid doesn’t cry and gets back to work on the carrots. Mark finds out that his young assistant has never had a curry, so this is a bit of a concern for him. Nikki says that she started cooking at 8 or 9 years old because her mother was a single parent and Nikki had to fend for herself, a fact she mentions about three hundred billion times. She’s going to make a dish that she learned to prepare on her own at a very young age. Dale’s kid is short for his age, which Dale identifies with, saying his basketball fame wish was crushed when he topped out at 5’5”. Andrew is in to teaching his kid to cook healthily because he wasn’t raised on the best diet and hit over 200 lbs when he was in his teens. He only lost the weight when he decided to cook well for himself.
Tom comes in to observe the process and ends up staying the whole time. He talks with some of the chefs and the kid chefs. After observing Stephanie making couscous with a tomato-peanut butter sauce, he comments that the flavor combination sounds weird. He is impressed, however, with Spike making a whole meal on the budget. He chats with Richard’s charge who explains what “sweating the onions” means, Dale’s assistant, who says the best thing about cooking is the eating, and finds out that Mark’s sous chef does like spicy foods, so maybe the curry will work out after all. Nikki again explains that the dish she is doing is one she perfected at a young age because she had to cook for herself. We get it, already!
Dale thinks Tom is staying the whole hour cook time to see how much the kids get to help out and see how hard the dish is to make. As time ticks down, Stephanie worries that her couscous is overcooked and there is a mad dash to plate all of the servings. With that, the phone rings and it’s my sister. She’s just seen a sneak peak of “Iron Man” and says it is awesome and I should tell all my friends because if it does well, her boyfriend may get a bonus. So, people, you are informed!
Further proof that food criticism is child’s play.
As it turns out, service is for a bunch of kids from the Common Threads program. Each team’s dish will be served to a different table of kids and the kid chef will eat with that table and explain the dish. The three seated judges—Padma, Art, and Gail—will share a plate to sample, since there are going to be 10 plates. The dishes served are:
Richard and Abigail’s roasted chicken with black beans, apple, avocado and beet salad. Abigail never had beets before but she loved them. Padma likes the apple, the judges like the nutrition value, and the kids are skeptical of the beets.
Lisa and Andrew’s roasted chicken with edamame and black beans and peanut butter and apple French toast for dessert. Padma wanted more fresh vegetables and Art thought the chicken lacked flavor, but the table liked the dessert for a snack.
Dale and Emmanuel’s turkey bratwurst with potatoes, onions, red cabbage and apples. He warns the kids that it may be a bit spicy. Padma thinks the cabbage is a bit acidic, but the kids like it.
Spike and Alex’s pasta puttanesca, carrot soup, and semi-baked apples. The kids who get this plate are super-excited at getting spaghetti. Alex introduces the dishes and the judges like all the veggies in the pasta. The apples didn’t bake as long as they wanted, but they serve the apples anyway.
Nikki and Amaris’s roasted chicken with mixed vegetables and a tomato and cucumber salad. Nikki is certain the chicken is just as she wants it and emphasizes to the judges that it is cooked all in one pot. Art loves it, loves one pot wonders and Gail thinks it is a complete dish. The kids like it too, but none seem to be scarfing down the Brussells sprouts.
Mark and Jesucita’s vegetable curry, cinnamon rice, and cucumber salad. Jesucita explains the dish to the judges and kind of adopts Mark’s accent when pronouncing “curry.” Mark had fun with the challenge. Padma thinks the dish is too sweet with the coconut milk, sweet potato, and peanut tastes and the table agrees that there needs to be protein.
Antonia and Jeffry’s chicken and vegetable stir-fry with whole wheat noodles. Gail thinks it’s good but a little sweet. The judges recognize that this is real-life cooking for Antonia.
Andrew and Miguel’s chicken paillard with fennel, apples and orange salad. Art says it is well-executed and the kids will eat it, which is just what they are doing.
Stephanie and Arlynn’s couscous with eggplant and zucchini topped with a chicken in peanut, tomato, and lemon juice sauce and a plate of cooked apples with granola. Art doesn’t think it tastes great, Padma thinks the couscous isn’t done well, and Gail says it is a sign of a restaurant chef who doesn’t cook at home much.
Tom sampled all of the dishes back in the kitchen so after service the four judges sit down for a post-nosh confab. They liked Nikki’s dish because it was colorful and fun and had a good salad. Antonia’s was liked because the dish struck a real-life chord because it is something she cooks with daughter. They didn’t like Lisa’s bland-beans and undercooked edamame and Stephanie’s bad tomato-peanut butter sauce on the chicken. As the judges discus, the chefs pack up and head back to await their fates. Richard comments that he was so touched by working with the kids and seeing Antonia tear up and he wants to go home and start makin’ babies. It’s official: my appetite is killed.
Kid tested, mother approved…or disapproved.
The chefs sit around the storage room waiting to find out if they won, lost, or are stuck in the middle again. Nikki marvels at how fast her girl peeled vegetables and Richard’s girl also was a success, but rightfully declined the offer of employment to continue her education. Padma shows up and collects Andrew, Nikki, and Antonia from the room.
Before the Judges’ Table, their fears are quickly put to bed when they are told that they are the top three. Nikki’s one-pan chicken dish was a hit with Tom for simplicity. Gail thought the flavors were balanced and Art found the preparation accessible for home cooks. Padma thought Andrew’s dish was great and made the use of fruits in a savory dish appealing to kids. Gail was impressed with his use of fennel, as all the kids liked it even though it’s a fairly esoteric ingredient for kid cuisine. Finally, Padma thought Antonia’s dish was delicate enough for kids to eat but flavorful enough not to bore parents. Gail says her dish proves that you don’t have to dumb down cuisine to appeal to a wide audience. Art then announces that Antonia is the winner. She’s relieved—she says it would be embarrassing if the mother in the group couldn’t win a cooking-for-kids challenge. While Antonia is happy to win—both the QF and the EC, no less—her moment of joy is a bit tampered by having to send back Lisa, Stephanie and Mark.
When the bottom three are before the panel, they have some ‘splainin’ to do. Stephanie thinks she’s there because her dish wasn’t simple enough. Tom is just flat-out disgusted with the peanut butter-tomato-lemon sauce flavor combination. He makes this face like he’s just seen some poo, harkening back to Antonia’s joke. I love it when there’s continuity to a joke. The panel was not fond of Stephanie’s couscous either; she cops to it being overcooked, but sent it out anyway.
Mark thought his dish was fine and thinks he’s before the panel because Tom doesn’t like him. Mark complains that Tom always says “too salty” or “overcooked” and Tom says that’s easy to fix—don’t over-salt or over cook! Tom’s problem was that the dish was too sweet. Gail says that the nutritional value wasn’t an issue but it was an issue of the choice of the vegetables. Apparently the veggie curry was sweet-potato heavy and Art says that there could have been better vegetables included. Mark gets a bit defensive, noting that there doesn’t always need to be a protein in a dish.
Lastly, Lisa defends her dish saying that it was a well-balanced meal and simple to create. She is adamant that she followed all the challenge’s parameters, especially after last week’s challenge. Tom says his issue was that the black beans and edamame were under-seasoned; other than that, the dish was nutritionally well-balanced. Lisa counters that the dish was well-seasoned and she was having to deal with canned beans, which is something a family on a budget would use.
The bottom three head back to stew a bit and the judges talk over their decision. Art comments that Lisa can’t take criticism well. Well, d’oh! Padma thinks Lisa’s dish lacked flavor and Gail says it wasn’t tasty at all. Tom says that any way you cut it, bland is bland. But worse than bland, Tom thinks Mark’s dish was sloppy. It’s a good thing he didn’t see Mark using the same spoon to serve as to taste in the QF or more “sloppy” comments would have ensued. Gail sees the dish as lacking overall and Tom thinks that Mark didn’t use his budget wisely, what with the one vegetable in the curry. Finally, Tom is surprised that Stephanie did so poorly, since she’s been on top for many ECs. Padma thought her dish was disgusting and Art wonders how someone can’t properly cook couscous.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. And one is made, not before all three in the bottom are sure they are going home. Back before the Judges’ Table they go and hear the verdict: Stephanie’s dish was over-complicated and had an off-putting flavor combination; Mark didn’t budget well and the flavors didn’t come together; and Lisa’s dish was under-flavored. Padma delivers the final word—Mark is out. And I was sure it was going to be Lisa or Stephanie! A twisty twist those magical elves deliver. Tom is quick to “go on the record” that he does like Mark and hopes to share a pint with him soon after the show wraps. Mark pledges to continue to work towards opening his own restaurant in the future and says all the same stuff we hear every week about learning a lot from his fellow contestants. I hope he takes away the lesson that you don’t taste and serve with the same spoon, lest I never set foot in any restaurant that he may own in the future.
Come back next week when some crazy people hire the TC crew to cater their wedding and the chefs have to cook for *gasp* 14 hours straight.